CFE-CGC hold 31st congress

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At its congress in June 1999, France's CFE-CGC trade union confederation, which represents managerial and professional staff and supervisors, elected a new management team. After some years of falling membership and support, the confederation sought to present a united front and to refocus on its traditional goals and grassroots.

The French Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff-General Confederation of Professional and Managerial Staff (Confédération française de l'encadrement-Confédération générale des cadres, CFE-CGC) held its 31st congress in Tours on 16-18 June 1999. CFE-CGC's membership has declined significantly over the past 20 years. In 1976 the confederation posted a membership of 398,000, which had dropped to 181,200 by 1991, though CFE-CGC asserts that it has now reversed this decline, boasting 191,827 members in 1998.

CFE-CGC was dealt a severe blow at the December 1997 Conseils de prud'hommesor industrial tribunal elections (FR9712185F), when its vote slipped, in all categories of employee taken as a whole, by one percentage point to 5.9% from its 1992 level of 6.9%. In its main area of organisation, the managerial and professional staff (cadres) category, CFE-CGC dropped 5.4 points to 21.8%, which allowed CFDT to snatch the position of largest trade union in this category.

The shock wave sent out by the union's poor showing had an adverse effect on CFE-CGC strategy and action in the months immediately following the prud'hommeselections. The confederation created closer ties with the National Federation of Autonomous Unions (Union nationale des syndicats autonomes, UNSA) and then embarked on a long process of self-examination which resulted in a special "conference on modernity" (Assises de la modernité), held in October 1998. In addition to carrying out a full-scale reform of the organisation's structure, this conference proposed extending CFE-CGC's catchment area beyond managers, professionals and supervisors to include other categories of employees, as well as independent and self-employed workers (FR9811139F).

On the eve of the 1999 congress, CFE-CGC was outwardly promoting an image of unity after the problems that it had faced in the past. The renewal of the confederation's management team was organised by agreement between the various candidates, prior to being endorsed by the congress. Marc Vilbenoît handed over the presidency to Jean-Luc Cazettes, while Claude Cambus, the former general secretary, took over the post of deputy president in charge of the newly created portfolio of European affairs. Jean-Louis Walter took over as general secretary.

The planned opening up of CFE-CGC membership to all "categories of professional employees" appears, for the moment, to have been sidelined. The debate surrounding the reduction of working time and the difficulties in implementing it for managerial employees (FR9906190F) led congress delegates to return to the more traditional goals of their organisation - ie representing managerial and professional staff. Mr Cazettes, the new president, also attacked a tax system that allegedly penalises the middle classes, lamented the inadequacies of managerial salaries and demanded intersectoral negotiations with employers on the status of managerial and professional employees.

However, CFE-CGC's "renewed focus" on its traditional grassroots and apparent absence of major conflicts between its member federations failed to disguise the underlying internal divisions and rifts. Mr Walter, who comes from the powerful metalworkers' federation and was a candidate to succeed Mr Vilbenoît as president, accepted the position of general secretary, but declared that he would run for president again at the 2002 congress. The rift between managerial/professional staff and supervisors also resurfaced during a debate on changing the confederation's name and logo. The new management team cautiously deferred the decision to a later date. Mr Cazettes, who does not intend to be merely a "transitional president", wants to see a CFE-CGC "with real teeth".

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